Each year, doctors in emergency rooms around the country see about nine million minor injuries. Most of these afflictions can be treated — or at least kept from getting worse — by having the right first-aid supplies on hand and knowing how to use them.
Dr. Lewis First, head of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care, helps parents prep for the minor bumps, bruises and boo-boos that are an inevitable part of childhood.
KIDS VT: What should parents keep in a general first-aid kit?
LEWIS FIRST: It should have various sizes of bandages, adhesive tape, sterile gauze, a cold pack, alcohol-based wipes or hand rubs, soap and a pair of latex-free rubber gloves. You'll also want to have some ibuprofen, acetaminophen, an antihistamine and hydrocortisone for insect bites or itchy skin reactions, and calamine lotion for poison ivy. An EpiPen is essential for those who might have a severe allergic reaction to particular foods or insects. You'll also want a thermometer, scissors, tweezers and a flashlight.
KVT: Anything else?
LF: It's helpful to keep a list of emergency numbers inside or near the kit, including the police, fire department and health care providers for all family members. It's good to keep immunization records, too, along with a mini health history for the family summarizing major medical problems. The kit should also include health insurance details, information regarding any prescription medications used and whom to call in case of an emergency. Finally, parents need to remember to replace whatever they use in the kit and check for expired medications.
KVT: Where can parents get a first-aid kit?
LF: They can be purchased from the Red Cross or from some stores, or you can talk to your health care provider and make the kit yourself.
Store-bought ones may not necessarily be designed for children, and should be adjusted as needed with infant, toddler and child medications.
For school-age children, it's a good idea to create a child-safe first-aid kit, without medications or sharp objects, that can be accessed by children while an adult is being called for help.
KVT: Are there any items parents should carry when traveling far from a hospital or doctor's office?
LF: Yes — adhesive bandages, an ACE bandage, a splint and a cold pack. For camping, if cellphone service won't be available, it's worth giving your location and estimated time of return to a relative or close friend. A space blanket is also a good idea, as are sterile water and antibacterial soap. A CPR how-to guide for infants, children and adults is also good to have in a portable and home kit, but hopefully it will never have to be used.
KVT: When should an injury be treated in the ER?
LF: My rule of thumb: If a cut is more than a half inch in length — or more than a quarter inch in length on the face — it may warrant a visit to determine whether further medical attention is needed, especially if the cut is nonlinear. Wounds that require stitches are usually longer than a half inch; have an irregular shape or sit over a joint, eyelid or lip; and don't stop bleeding within eight minutes.
KVT: What's your advice for bandaging a wound?
LF: Whether it's a scrape, cut or bruise, clean the daylights out of it. Wash it well with soap, ideally under pressure with a sink nozzle. You can prevent a lot of secondary complications by cleaning these cuts well, which means running them under water for several minutes so they don't get infected. And parents should either wear gloves or wash their hands well before handling an injury so as not to introduce germs into the cut.
After you clean a cut, apply steady pressure with sterile gauze — and don't peek! — for five to eight minutes. If it's still bleeding after eight minutes, that might be an indicator to have someone in the emergency room take a look at it and determine if stitches are needed. Also, check your immunization records to make sure your child's tetanus shot status is up to date.
KVT: What are the signs that a cut may be infected?
LF: If any cut, after it's been cleaned, turns red, swollen, tender or warm, or oozes pus, then by all means check with a health care provider to see if an antibiotic is necessary.
KVT: What's your advice for removing splinters?
LF: If you soak the splinter in warm, soapy water for 15 to 30 minutes a couple of times a day for a few days — if it's not bothering the child — it brings the splinter to the surface and makes it easier to remove.
With kids, a nice thing to do is to numb the area with an ice pack for a couple of minutes. Then have your child look the other way. Run a flame over tweezers and a safety pin, let them cool down and wipe them off with an alcohol wipe. Then use the safety pin to get under the splinter and lift it up so the tweezers can then pull the splinter out.
With wood splinters, one trick is to put a little white glue on a cotton swab or gauze, press the glue on the gauze against the splinter until it dries, and then pull up on the gauze. The splinter should come right out.
KVT: Any tips to help keep parents from panicking?
LF: Kids get their cues from parents. The calmer parents can be, the calmer their children will be. And the more familiar parents are with what's in the first-aid kit, the better.